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Kyoto Travel Guide

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  • Photo: Perati Komson / Shutterstock

Plan Your Kyoto Vacation

The astonishing number of temples, shrines, and palaces that adorn the city make Kyoto's architecture its most famous feature to visitors. Japan's capital for more than 1,000 years, Kyoto was the center not only for politics, but religion, philosophy, art, culture, and cuisine. Every one of Japan's refined cultural arts blossomed from seeds that were planted here, including the tea ceremony,

Kabuki theater, Zen, and Tantric Buddhism.

Breathtaking sights are abundant, though some places truly stand out. Many tourists come away most impressed by Kyoto's great temples, such as Kiyomizu-dera in the city's eastern mountains, and the forest-cloaked Fushimi-Inari Taisha, a shrine pathway through a miles-long chain of towering vermilion gates. Visitors also flock to cultural hubs like the Museum of Traditional Crafts, showcasing the city's artisanal legacy, and Sanjusangen-do, with its 1,000 golden statues of Kannon.

Kyoto residents have a fierce sense of propriety about nearly everything, ranging from good table manners to family pedigree. This subtle yet strict code has some notorious consequences for locals—who are not considered true Kyotoites unless they can trace their lineage back four generations—but certain benefits for visitors. Wear out your welcome in a Kyoto home and they are likely to offer you tea as a signal that your time is up. The refined and symbolic Kyoto mind-set, however, insists that nothing made here should be of less than exquisite craftsmanship and stellar design. This philosophy means that whether browsing for gifts in a handkerchief shop, sightseeing at a local temple, or sitting down to a 12-course dinner, whatever you encounter is likely to be top-notch. As a visitor here you're a guest of the city, and Kyoto will make sure you leave with wonderful memories.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Architecture Despite modernization, about 27,000 traditional houses remain. The preservation districts include Sannen-zaka, Gion Shin-bashi, the sake brewing district in Fushimi, and the canal street leading to Kamigamo Jinja.
  2. Gardens Chinese-influenced gardens symbolize paradise on Earth. The karesansui (rock gardens) of Zen temples signify the quest for wholeness; the most famous of these is at Ryoan-ji.
  3. Crafts There's no shortage of art and antiques shops; secondhand kimonos are a bargain; and ceramics, lacquerware, and woven bamboo make great souvenirs.
  4. Living culture Professional dancers and performers, geisha are revered as an embodiment of culture, with their opulent kimonos, hair ornaments, and artistic skills.
  5. Festivals Experience one of Kyoto's festivals, many occurring between May and October.

When To Go

When to Go to Kyoto

Cherry-blossom time in spring (usually the first week of April) and the glorious autumn foliage in early November are remarkable, though the...

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